In 1996, Hema Hattangady took over as the CEO of Conzerv, an embattled family-owned firm based in Bengaluru that manufactured digital energy meters. Over the next twelve years, she grew it to a Rs 100 crore company, which has become the country’s largest energy-management company.
In 2009, the company was acquired by Schneider Electric, and Hema Hattangady turned her attention to impact investing and community service. Recently she wrote ‘Lift Off’, a book that focusses on her journey to build Conzerv. In an interview to Furquan Moharkan of DH she narrates her experience of writing the book, her perspective on running a business and her foray into investing in the startup space. Edited excerpts:
You have talked about your corporate journey in the book. What has been your biggest learning in this journey?
It is not enough to have a world-class product and manufacturing facility. You also need to align people and processes around core values and an inspiring vision everyone can relate to and see a role in.
Why did you feel the need to get the story out?
I faced many challenges as a non-male, non-technical marketing person and as CEO. With the support and encouragement of my husband and Chairman I found the courage and energy to balance home and work, and as a first-time CEO with no experience, do what was needed to transform the organisation.
I felt it was important for entrepreneurs and women in business to know my story and hopefully, be inspired.
You have talked about the patriarchal mindset of businesses in India. You think it’s still a problem?
I would think so particularly in some traditional sectors more than in the new-age industries that have come up in the last decade or so.
Is patriarchy weighing heavy on India’s economic productivity?
I would not be able to comment on that. But if we could, as employers and entrepreneurs think about ways of attracting and retaining women in the workforce, there would be gains all-round.
A substantial chunk of your book is focussed on ethics. Do you think India Inc has been choosing bottomline over ethics?
One cannot make broad generalised statements. I have devoted a chapter in my book on how we did business based on ethical principles. In the final analysis that is the most sustainable thing to do.
How did changing the name of the company help get the marketing strategy right?
It brought focus to our purpose and vision of conservation over efficiency. It made us think of adjacencies to our metering business such as energy consulting services which gave our metering products a premium in the market place and gain credibility with customers as being experts in reducing wasteful energy consumption and controlling energy cost.
You have turned into startup investor now. How do you see India’s startup story?
It is exciting and inspiring. We have to continue creating enough space for startups to grow through intelligent policy, minimum government intervention and regulation and keep feeding the ecosystem that sustains startups. It is sad that the spending by the government in technology has been stagnant as compared with say China where the percentage has been increasing on a much larger GDP.
This will have serious consequences on the ability to create jobs, generate tax revenues and stay ahead in the global marketplace.
While investing in a startup, valuation is the most important factor. And there is no defined metric of valuating startups as of now? Does it cause problems?
Indeed it does. One has to make calls based on sober expectations of how much the product or service will succeed in the market before the next disruption comes along.